Kosovo: police regained control of a monastery where men had taken refuge after the murder of a police officer

Two Kosovar police officers patrolling near a road reported blocked were attacked in the early hours of Sunday, September 24, near the town of Zvecan in northern Kosovo

Kosovo: police regained control of a monastery where men had taken refuge after the murder of a police officer

Two Kosovar police officers patrolling near a road reported blocked were attacked in the early hours of Sunday, September 24, near the town of Zvecan in northern Kosovo. One of them was killed and the other was injured. “The police unit was attacked from different positions with heavy weapons, including grenades,” the police said in a statement. The situation returned to calm on Sunday evening after control was regained at the monastery where around thirty armed men had taken refuge, announced the Minister of the Interior, Xhelal Sveçla.

During a press conference, the Minister of the Interior spoke of “several battles”. Three attackers were killed, said the minister, who also announced the arrest of two injured men who were in "uniform", without further details, and four others who offered support to the group. The latter were arrested outside the monastery area. The police had confirmed "the death of three attackers, [and] the arrest of four [civilian] suspects who were arrested in possession of radio communication tools, as well as the identification of a large number of weapons and of ammunition”.

Since midday, around thirty armed men had been holed up in the Banjska monastery, surrounded by police forces, according to the Kosovar authorities. The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, showed photos during a press conference in which we could see several men dressed in khaki, weapons in their hands, in what he presented as this monastery. Mr. Kurti had claimed that the armed men were not civilians, “but professionals, police or military, who are in and around a monastery.”

According to the law, Kosovar authorities cannot exercise their power in Orthodox churches and monasteries without agreement from the Church – except in cases of emergency such as a fire or earthquake. The Kosovo Force (KFOR) – NATO peacekeeping force in this country – “is present and ready to intervene if asked”, according to its latest statement, which specifies that the Kosovar police are responsible for managing the situation. Inside the monastery there would be, according to a press release from the diocese, “a group of pilgrims from Novi Sad [in Serbia] with an abbot”. For their safety, they locked themselves inside after masked men “stormed the Banjska monastery in an armored vehicle, and forced the door.”

“An attack on Kosovo”

Albin Kurti immediately denounced a “criminal and terrorist” attack, and accused “officials in Belgrade” of offering logistical and financial support “to organized crime”. In a message posted on X (formerly Twitter), Albin Kurti accused Serbia “of sponsoring terrorist attacks in the North.” He added: “Serbia’s support of violence and terrorism constitutes a blatant violation of both our national security and international law, principles and values. » “It’s an attack on Kosovo,” added President Vjosa Osmani. “These attacks prove, if it were still needed, the destabilizing power of criminal gangs, organized by Serbia, which have been destabilizing Kosovo and the region for a long time,” she wrote in a statement.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced he would speak at 8 p.m. to “debunk all the lies of Albin Kurti, who is only creating chaos and hell” in Kosovo. The European Union, for its part, condemned on X (formerly Twitter) by its head of diplomacy, Josep Borrell, “the horrible attack against police officers in Banjska in northern Kosovo. Those responsible will have to be judged.” The United States ambassador to Kosovo also condemned the attack, “the perpetrators of which must and will be held responsible and brought to justice.”

Serbia, supported in particular by its Russian and Chinese allies, refuses to recognize the independence of its former province, whose population of 1.8 million inhabitants, overwhelmingly of Albanian origin, includes a Serbian community of around 120,000 people, who live mainly in northern Kosovo. Since a conflict which left 13,000 dead, mostly Kosovar Albanians, relations between the two former enemies have gone from crisis to crisis.

Persistent problems

Northern Kosovo is the scene of recurring unrest, and tension there suddenly increased in May when the Kosovar authorities decided to appoint Albanian mayors in four municipalities with a Serbian majority. More than 30 soldiers from KFOR, the force led by NATO in Kosovo, were injured at the end of May in clashes with Serbian demonstrators.

The international community has repeatedly urged both parties to de-escalate, and stressed that the accession to the European Union of Belgrade and Pristina could be jeopardized by these renewed violence. Ten days ago, the latest attempts at talks between the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, and the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, failed after just a few hours.

The Serbian side wishes, as a prerequisite for any discussion, to obtain a form of association of Serbian communities in the North, while the Kosovar side has as a prerequisite recognition by Belgrade of the independence of Kosovo.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Serbian president accused the West of hypocrisy, arguing that recognition of Kosovo was based on the same arguments Russia used to invade Ukraine.